Alternative Ways to Improve Your Driving Skills - Training - LawOfficer.com

Alternative Ways to Improve Your Driving Skills

Even the most effective EVOC instructor can only do so much on a 500'x400' parking lot

 


 

JP Molnar | From the October 2006 Issue Saturday, September 30, 2006

In law enforcement, many of us spend a great deal of time behind the wheel of our patrol vehicle, our office on wheels. Unlike the desk at home, however, we frequently must drive our offices at high speeds through all types of weather and traffic conditions they never taught us in our high school driver s education classes. Partly due to these job dimensions, and partly to address the issues brought up in Canton v. Harris,* law enforcement agencies regularly integrate some sort of EVOC program into their basic training regimen.

Unfortunately, due to location, budget, vehicle and instructor availability, department size and other perceived priorities, the effectiveness of EVOC training programs varies significantly from agency to agency. In some cases, like the California Highway Patrol, an immense training facility exists with multiple training settings, including high- and low-speed training, precision immobilization technique (PIT) training and much more. In others, agencies must improvise with free parking lots, construction cones and speeds that rarely exceed 40 mph. Agencies meet their training needs in both cases, but even the most effective EVOC instructor can only do so much on a 500'x400' parking lot. And, while academy programs are standardized in each state, many agencies offer little afterward.

Ultimately, whether or not your agency s EVOC program protects you legally in a crisis, you owe it to yourself, your family, your career and the public to make yourself the best driver possible. Because we know the limitations of public agencies EVOC training methods, we must look elsewhere to improve driving skills.

Fortunately, the vast legion of automotive enthusiasts around the world has ensured that numerous options exist to improve your driving skills and provide you with a lot of fun while you re learning. Many of the options listed below exist nationwide and can be done at a pretty low cost. For some, you can use your personal vehicle with little or no modification, or use the vehicles provided. For others, you will need to purchase specialized vehicles and equipment.

Regardless, the investment in your driving skills will provide benefits in your personal life, and will make you a much more capable and efficient law enforcement driver. Every option is a legitimate, controlled environment in which you can learn valuable skills, have fun and give yourself and your family some additional peace of mind.

Autocrossing

Cost: Entry fees usually vary from $20 $50; annual membership fees may apply.

Can I use my own vehicle? Yes.

What is it? Autocrossing, also known as Solo racing, is basically a competition form of the type of traffic-coned courses you drove in the academy. But unlike the academy, each driver is individually timed to the thousandth of a second, and drivers compete against one another in similarly classed vehicles. Vehicles complete the course one at a time (hence the Solo moniker), and the events are usually held on airport runways, parking lots, etc. There are two types of Solo events, Solo I and Solo II. The difference: Solo I events are usually held on high-speed venues that require additional safety equipment, while Solo II events are low-speed that require no modifications.

Why it's good: Solo II emphasizes driver skill and vehicle handling, which means precision, smoothness and balance are the keys to running fast. Because you can use your personal vehicle, you can learn how to drive your vehicle to its limit for safer street driving, and may be able to bring your patrol car to the event. The courses change from venue to venue, so there s a lot of variety, and there is usually an event near you. Competition can prove fierce, with winners often determined by hundredths and thousandths of a second.

What you ll need: A vehicle that meets a basic safety inspection, a helmet (sometimes provided), a few dollars to enter, and a good attitude.

What if I like it? There are literally thousands of Solo events nationwide each year. Because there are many categories and classes of Solo, you can either continue driving your street car, or find something more specialized. If you feel especially confident, you can attend the annual SCCA Solo II National Championships in the Midwest. There, you ll find more than a thousand drivers, all wanting to take home the championship in their classes.

Whom do I contact? The Sports Car Club of America (www.scca.com), or the National Auto Sport Association (www.nasaproracing.com). Numerous independent car clubs also offer Solo events to their members.

Kart Racing

What it costs: Entry fees typically vary from track to track; annual membership fees may apply. You will also need to buy, rent or borrow a kart and the required safety gear. You can buy a good kart for less than $2,000, with price increases dependent on class and equipment.

Can I use my own vehicle? No.

What is it? Interested in driving a vehicle that accelerates from 0 60 mph in about 3 seconds, corners with as much g-force as a Formula 1 or Indy car, fits in the back of a normal pickup truck and can run an entire race weekend on a few gallons of gas? If so, welcome to karting. What started more than 50 years ago as a low-cost hobby has gone on to become a world-class racing scene for an estimated 100,000-plus Americans annually, according to the World Karting Association.




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JP MolnarJP Molnar, Law Officer's Cruiser Corner columnist, is a former state trooper and has been teaching EVOC since 1991 for numerous agencies.

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